Let me start off by saying I feel wrong doing this. It shouldn't come from a 25-year old. It seems defeatist and premature. But I'm so glad I am no longer clogged up in your veins. It took a lot to leave you, with my tail tucked between my legs, begrudgingly so, but it was a decision that made itself in the end.
When you're young, a city like you is the pinnacle of all hopes and dreams. I wanted you London, I wanted all of you. I had paid my dues; studied, interned, lead a lowly but fruitful freelance life, nannied, waited tables, ushered at theatres, said yes to anything and everything. But I had to give up on you - your return for all my hard work was poor and unsatisfying.
It's easy to assume that what you desire, especially as a young person, is your God given right. And because I wanted it (your greatness, your resources, a thriving career, smart people to exchange intelligent words with, the occasional pub crawl) that badly, with raging enthusiasm, I felt I deserved it. I am not unique in this. Every young person carries this chip on their shoulder. But it didn't work out, London. I left you. It felt weird, like I was regressing and became less of a person. Because I wasn't actually tired of you, or of life but I couldn't afford you anymore. And I couldn't take another morbid ride on your Underground to another lackluster job interview, while involuntarily mangled into someone's armpit. I bet Dr. Johnson didn't have to deal with that.
The pursuit of happiness has become the primary currency of our generation. Happiness seems far-fetched in a city of your magnitude. The odds are stacked against you. You're too expensive, brash and lonely. Too many of us struggle on your streets, maybe not literally on the streets but the compromise of living your life is harsh. I was disenchanted by your lack of opportunities for young people. I hated how everything was about keeping your head above water so frantically in this playground that is now exclusively for the super-rich. Your credentials are beyond doubt, but you are a city of rampant divide. There's this expectation that living in your land means accepting hardship at face value, no questions asked, no questions answered. You have to just get on with it and see your dwindling quality of life sold to your system as it were.
I feel like you swallow up time before any of us have even had a chance to live it. Since leaving you, I'm much more attentive to the here and now; even if it is profoundly simplified and lacking the on-the-edge-of-your-seat excitement. Leaving your relentlessness that you foist on us has made my head clearer and each breath deeper. Although you are wonderfully plural in your offerings, so quick to embrace newcomers, so slow to bore, my volley of complaints never cease. I'm working on that.
Even though I, as a 25 year old, the breed of being that should be spearheading projects, initiatives and change to make this the best city it can be alongside my comrades, I have slipped my Oyster card into its plastic pouch and let the dust gather. I know so many more of my kind feel this way and want refuge from your prohibitively high demands and have sought pastures new elsewhere.
Still, you will always be the promised land for me and my kin, it's hard to shake. But unfortunately living in your land is much like living with in-laws: intolerable and unreasonable. But since you are like family, I'm sure we'll work it out. You are the best city in the world, that's why we wanted you to be declared a city state post Brexit, because you are your own shining entity in the Kingdom. I wear my "I used to live in London" badge of honour with pride everywhere I go; probably because I want to shift it to the present tense in the future, but I don't know why?
You quench thirsts, stand as a beacon of hope and make for a most promising pilgrimage for the world. But you are also an ideology that shatters by the time people go beyond zone 1 - which is where most people live; where it's like something out of a Doris Lessing novel: ugly and bleak. Your 'living in the fast lane' is pure fantasy.
Two years on, I am still glad I left you. There is a wider world out there that gives me the time of day. I know you are always there and I can return whenever I want because I am not done with you London - I contradict myself all the time by hating you and then loving you 30 seconds later. For now, I enjoy you with monies that I wouldn't dream of getting from you right now. I often think: "There's so much wrong with London, why did I ever think it was that amazing?" Because you are dear, London. Because you are.
Yours (but not really),